On Monday Night Football, the NFC North leading Detroit Lions will face off against the top team in the NFC in the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is coming in off a win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, highlighted by a charitable celebration by Ezekiel Elliott that has seen a $250,000 increase in donations to the Salvation Army compared to the previous week. Meanwhile, Detroit is coming off a tough loss to the New York Giants in a game that saw an offense unable to reach pay dirt, losing 17-6. In order to defeat “America’s Team”, the Lions will have to follow these keys to victory: pressure Dak Prescott, slow down Ezekiel Elliott, and the Lions offense must convert red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
Detroit Lions Week 16 Keys to Victory
Pressure Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott has had an incredible rookie season and has been named to the Pro Bowl. This had upset some Lions fans that believe Matthew Stafford has had the better statistical season. This season, the Lions defense has allowed opposing QBs an average of 72.8% pass completion which is dead last in the NFL. Last week against the Bucs, Prescott posted the second highest completion percentage with at least 30 passes in NFL history. One of the Lions’ key defensive lineman is Ezekiel (Ziggy) Ansah. He has been dealing with an ankle injury all season and recorded his first sack of the season against the Giants in Week 15. He will need to have a strong game against the highly touted Dallas Offensive Line and pressure Prescott for the Lions to have a shot in this game.
Slow Down Ezekiel Elliott
The Lions defense has averaged just under 100 yards rushing allowed per game (11th in NFL). Heading into this NFC matchup, Elliott is averaging over 110 per game and is coming off his best game of the season against the Buccaneers where he rushed for 159 yards. Elliott has 1551 yards rushing on the season and needs just 258 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record. Dallas and Detroit are both at the top of the NFL in stopping rushing touchdowns.
The Lions have struggled in the red zone in all facets of their offense but the true test will be if the Lions can prevent Elliot from reaching the end zone. The Lions play a bend-don’t-break style defense and going into a game against a high powered offense like the Cowboys will be an interesting matchup for them. Detroit will need to hold Elliott to under 110 yards to pull out a victory and win the NFC North.
Convert in Red Zone
To win football games you must be able to score more points than the other team. Sounds pretty simple. However, the Lions tend to march forward down the field until they get to the RedZone (Hi Scott Hanson). They have just over a 50% red zone touchdown conversion percentage and are only converting 25% in their last three games. Meanwhile, the Cowboys come into the matchup top five in the NFL at 64% on the season and are 67% in their last three. Some of the Lions’ scoring issues can be attributed to key injuries. Travis Swanson, the starting center, has been dealing with a concussion he suffered against the Saints, and along with Theo Riddick and Darius Slay, is questionable to play against the Cowboys.
Injuries to running backs Ameer Abdullah, Dwayne Washington, and Theo Riddick have also really hurt the Lions’ rushing attack this season. The Lions have not had a 100-yard rushing game by a running back in two years. To counter that, they have thrown quick, short passes and screens to Golden Tate and Theo Riddick. With Riddick out, opposing defenses have been able to just focus on Tate and shut down that style of offense. Matthew Stafford has carried Detroit’s offense on his back to wins in heart-pounding, come-from-behind fashion, giving the team the nickname “Cardiac Cats”. Detroit must not turn over the ball and come away with seven instead of three if they want to beat the Cowboys on Monday night.
A lot of things have to go right for Detroit to pull off an upset against the Cowboys in a primetime NFC matchup. With the Packers right on the Lions’ tails and heading to Detroit for a Week 17 matchup, the pressure is building on Detroit. Are they the same old Lions: A team that will raise all Detroit fans’ hopes up and then come crumbling down in the most gut wrenching way possible? Or will the Lions bend and not break and hold on to the NFC North by winning one of these next two games? We shall see if Detroit closes out 2016 as lions, or as lambs.